LHISD earns top rating on financial reporting

By Shelly Wilkison

Liberty Hill Independent School District scored a superior rating on the School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) — an announcement that was made during a public hearing Monday.

The purpose of the rating process is to promote accountability for the quality of the school district’s financial management practices. School FIRST ratings show how a district is managing its resources to provide  “the maximum allocation possible for direct instructional purposes,” according to the Texas Education Agency.

LHISD Business Manager Frank Watson told trustees that the district scored 70 on the rating instrument with 52 being the passing score. Liberty Hill has earned the superior rating every year since the program was created in 2001.

During the public comments portion of the hearing, Jim Dillon said “you all seem pretty honest,” but he questioned the need for a new high school and said the district had not been open with taxpayers about how much more taxes they would be required to pay as a result of an $86 million bond package passed in  2010.

“When you consider financial integrity, you have to look at the entire picture. For a district that didn’t need a new high school to impose a burden on taxpayers, I don’t think that’s very funny really,” he said referring to some on the Board and in the audience who were smiling during his presentation.

“There’s nothing funny. But, that’s not true,” Trustee Anthony Stephens said in response to Dillon. “The bond package showed the impact and what the tax rate would be.”

Dillon, who was the only speaker during the public hearing, suggested the district’s enrollment was not growing at a rate that warranted construction of a new school.

However, later in the meeting, Superintendent Rob Hart presented the results of a demographic study showing upward trends in housing starts and closings in the district, as well as projected growth. (See the Study)

The study, conducted by School District Strategies of Dallas for LHISD, showed there are 11,556 potential residential lots planned within the district and 818 “fully developed lots on the ground.”

“That represents 40 percent of all of the available lots in the Austin housing market — right here in Liberty Hill,” Hart said.

The demographic study included a ranking of residential subdivisions within the school district showing the number of available lots for new construction and the number of homes currently occupied.

According to the study, Rancho Sienna was ranked first in the number of closings from the fourth quarter of 2011 to date.

Liberty Hill ranked 15 among 20 Austin area school districts in new home closings with 77 over the past year. Leander ISD ranked first.

Hart showed trustees a chart indicating that housing starts are ahead of closings and the average monthly supply of lots has reached the lowest point in the past four years.

“The trends show we are on our way back up,” he said, adding that there are an estimated 1.29 students projected per new household.

The study showed there are 36 new homes currently under construction in LHISD.

Hart added that the study revealed that property across from Liberty Hill Elementary School on Loop 332 had been rezoned in July by the City of Liberty Hill for duplexes.

Liberty Hill High School Principal Bobby Mabry added that this academic year, 40 students new to the school district enrolled in high school.

The study showed this year’s eighth grade class has the largest number of students with 256 enrolled. Comparatively, the graduating class of 2013 has 181 presently enrolled.

Also Monday, administrators reported that 100 percent of all Liberty Hill teachers are classified as Highly Qualified under federal guidelines. All teachers currently meet the state standard for Highly Qualified status.

The Board voted to authorize Hart to execute documents pertaining to easement acquisitions on LHISD property for the construction of a water main. Hart explained that Chisholm Trail Special Utility District, which will supply the water for the new high school facility, requires the district to approve an easement to cross its own property with water lines.

The Board also heard an update on construction projects at each campus.

Following a 55-minute executive session, the Board accepted the resignation of kindergarten teacher Lori Maegden and approved the employment of Ruby Tuffentsamer for pre-kindergarten and Sreyroth Johnston for CMC.

Although no action was taken, the executive session agenda also included an item relating to the “purchase, exchange, lease or value of real property.”

Trustee Leslye Pogue was not present Monday.